Issues beside LD
People who have struggled to learn all their lives have most likely faced ridicule, bullying, and attacks on their self-esteem and self worth. They may have found it difficult to find stable work, and may have experienced poverty or the insecurity of “survival” jobs.
A “whole-life” strategy to support adults with learning difficulties addresses the emotional, social and material aspects of learning inside and outside the classroom. Emotions are not excluded or placed on the sidelines, but are powerful resources for learning. This is key to a “whole-life” approach to learning disabilities.
Including the “whole person” in learning
Adult literacy educators who have done research in their teaching settings suggest several effective strategies for including the “whole person” in learning. These strategies value not only academic progress, but also progress in “non-academic” achievements that are also important to the quality of everyday life.
They also pay close attention to creating a safe and supportive learning environment where emotions can play a part in learning, and where people feel comfortable to take new risks in their learning.
Valuing non-academic outcomes
In Naming the Magic (Battell, 2001) argues that if the focus of assessment and evaluation is only upon academic progress, which may be slow for adults with learning disabilities, then other important areas of growth and change may be overlooked:
Students change their bearing, their walk; they hold their heads higher and smile more readily […] They look forward to reading or doing math, they read to their kids […] They feel more confident with family; at school, they speak to their classmates and strangers in the cafeteria line-up. They may begin to plan for a career. (Battell, 2001, p. xi)
Battell (2001) identifies strategies for valuing and documenting these non-academic outcomes, including:
learner goal-setting and developing and responding to guiding questions.
Integrated into any adult literacy setting, these strategies help to foreground positive change in people’s lives that often don’t show up in more traditional assessments.
Watch this space for Interview here with Evelyn on how she “names the magic” in literacy programs.
Creating safe and supportive learning environments
Safe learning environments encourage risk-taking inside and outside the classroom, and increase learners’ sense of agency and control over their learning.
Such strategies include:
Providing options and choices in the learning setting;
Encouraging involvement in managing the learning setting: making coffee, planning and facilitating meetings, mentoring new learners, and so on,
Stimulating reflection on past and current learning experiences through discussion and personal writing,
Naming in the classroom the emotional aspects of learning, particularly for those who have experienced violence.
Jenny Horsman’s website on learning and violence provides many more practical suggestions and resources to create safe learning environments, and to address the emotional aspects of learning.
- Figuring out the understanding of which healthy fat-bursting solution is right for you.
Jenny Horsman (2007) argues that quality practice for bringing the “whole self” to learning includes:
Acknowledge emotions and how they shape learning;
Acknowledge that violence affects learning,
Create “wrap-around” support networks for learners and for educators outside the classroom setting,
Create learning environments that include music, art, times of silence, inspirational quotes, comfortable seating and choices about what and how people want to learn.
Some helpful resources for creating safe learning environments:
Learning and Violence
This is the most comprehensive website you will find on violence and learning, particularly in the context of adult literacy practice. Click on “helping others learn” for a visual tour on creating inclusive and safe learning environments. There are plenty of links to more resources on violence and learning.
Norton, M. (2004). Violence and learning: Taking action. Calgary: Literacy Alberta.
Written by adult literacy educators as part of a research project on violence and learning, each chapter provides practical examples on creating safe learning environments, using the arts in learning, the writing process and other ideas for “rebuilding the spirit”.
Niks, M., Allen, D., Davies, P., McRae, D. & Nonesuch, K. (2003). Dancing in the dark. Vancouver: RiPAL-BC.
This collaborative, research-in-practice process led to several insights relevant to creating a safe learning environment and “re-building the spirit”. The authors advocate for teaching approaches that promote learner agency in its various forms, and provide examples of what this looks like in their own practice. They also describe how emotions can be recognized and brought into the learning process as a powerful resource.
Reading, writing and sharing stories is one way to work through the effects of learning disabilities on people’s learning and life experiences. Structured, multi-modal, and multi-sensory reading and writing strategies help to do this.
Here are some helpful resources:
Morgan, D. (1997). Writing Out Loud and Morgan, D. (2002). More Writing Out Loud. Edmonton: Grassroots Press.
The writing process that Deborah Morgan outlines provides a context for safe discussion and exploration of significant themes and events in people’s lives, and how they may approach writing about them.
Nonesuch, K. (2006). New beginnings: Writings by Vancouver Island Women. Duncan: Malaspina University-College
“I have followed the path that has brought me back to myself. I am sure you know the feeling even if your path is different than mine” (Marian, 2006, p. 7). These short pieces are powerful; anyone who has lived through depths of despair, incredible joy, hope, fear and love, will identify with these stories…they are an invitation to deeper discussion, writing, and to making connections with others.
PACFOLD (Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities)
The LDAC’s recent project, “Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities” (PACFOLD, 2007) de-mystifies and de-stigmatizes LD with personal stories from people with learning disabilities of different ages and backgrounds.
Digital storytelling examples here: connecting multi-modality with the learning and spiritual benefits of storytelling.
Connecting learning needs to material needs
Another practice that rebuilds the spirit through learning is to acknowledge learners’ everyday material needs. Here is an example:
In the Lakeshore Adult Literacy project in Etobikoke, Ontario, Pax-Milic (2001) describes how learners and instructors created extra learning contact hours by incorporating lessons on eating nutritiously on a low-income while cooking a meal together.
This integrated, hands-on activity helped learners to remember key math concepts, while attending to the vital need to eat well and make visible the experiences of living on a low income.
Watch this space for more examples of connecting to learning and material needs.
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